Professor Brett Scharffs and Professor Cole Durham, Director and Founding Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University, have concluded their annual course, Comparative Freedom of Religion, in the Department of Legal Studies at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary. The class, begun by Professor Durham in April and concluded by Professor Scharffs on May 5, 2016, included 26 students from 18 different countries, and addressed law and religion issues regarding both individual freedom of religion and belief and institutional arrangements between religion and the state from an international law and comparative law perspective. Topics covered included comparative constitutional law approaches to the regulation of religious groups; tensions that arise between freedom of religion and other important human rights such as nondiscrimination, women’s rights, and indigenous rights; financial relationships between religion and the state; religion and education; and religion in the public square.
The course was taught to students studying for Master’s degrees in comparative constitutional law, Human Rights LLM, and Human Rights MA. Professor Scharffs taught from page proofs of the upcoming second edition of the casebook, Law and Religion: National, International and Comparative Perspectives, co-authored by Professors Scharffs Durham. “Teaching this course each year is a highlight of the rhythm of the academic calendar,” said Professor Scharffs. “Imagine how rich a conversation occurs when you discuss with students from 18 different countries their respective experiences with religious education in their secondary schools.” Professor Scharffs also noted, that when polled, over half of the students had their first degree from Universities that started out as sponsored by a religion or religious order. Many of these universities retained, in varying degrees, their religious identity and affiliation. This illustrates the significance of the role that religious groups have played in education in general, and higher education in particular.
Professor Durham has been teaching this course annually in the Legal Studies Department at CEU for the past 15 years, and Professor Scharffs has been teaching part of the course for the past 8 years.